The most memorable person in 2003: the spin doctor


Martin davies image.


Martin davies image.
“We read Him here, we hear Her there, We chase those true lies everywhere, Whispering scribe of the story we’re in, That devilish, dastardly Doctor of Spin!”

Jack Robertson is Webdiary’s media critic.
We read Him here, we hear Her there,

We chase those true lies everywhere,

Whispering scribe of the story we’re in,

That devilish, dastardly Doctor of Spin!
The Meeja Watch Most Memorable Person Of 2003 is ‘The Spin Doctor’.

Yes, it’s been a year without peer for these fickle, feckless, flighty, flitty, flirty and only-ever-fleetingly found creatures of metaphysical manipulation. Whereas last year we embraced the ‘Ordinary Australian’ (Person of the year: The Ordinary Australian, that contrived electoral un-person who was publicly everywhere but not really there at all, 2003 has been dominated by precisely the opposite political phenomenon: The Man Who Is Nowhere To Be Seen But Has His Inky Digits All Over The Shop.

The Spin Doctor, that Scarlet Pimpernel of Public Debate.

The Spinner is vocationally-bound by his Guild Rules to remain faceless and nameless, but ego gets to the best of us in the end, and thus The Spin Doctor featured prominently in 2003, especially in the selling of the Iraq invasion ‘ perhaps too prominently for his own survival.

Both here and overseas, he simultaneously attained new depths of ignominy and heights of publicity, during such inglorious episodes as the suicide of British whistle-blower Dr David Kelly, the ‘outing’ of active CIA agent Valerie Plame (payback for her husband’s querying of the Niger uranium claims), and the attacks on our own Andrew Wilkie (via prime minster’s office innuendo and alleged leaks to Tame Media Spin-assister Andrew Bolt).

It was over Iraq that The Spin Doctor finally showed us both the sharpness of his teeth and the grubbiness of his knickers. Never more so than in the tactics uber-Spinner Alistair Campbell deployed in ‘selling the war’ to Britain, and then in later ‘damage-control’ after Kelly killed himself, itself the result of his Spun ‘no-names’ outing by Tony Blair’s government.

The Spinner’s vileness was revealed fully in Campbell’s diaries, testimony and general obnoxious demeanour during the Hutton Enquiry, laying bare his contempt for democracy, his ugly language and his ‘whatever-it-takes’ mentality, characteristics only ever rampant in someone who believes he will never be called to public account for them.

We read the sly emails that flew to and from the Number Ten Communications centre, directing the secondary and tertiary Spin; heard about the Lobby briefings, the way in which Kelly was unmistakably identified but not technically ‘named’; saw the buck-passing and fire-walling over his death by Blair and Hoon and their elected ilk; and were able to watch, in real time and as predicted by almost everyone, the Hutton Enquiry become Strategic Spin itself, distracting debate from the over-arching issue (Blair committing a reluctant population to an unnecessary war based on endless lies), and focussing instead on the containable specifics (who said what, when; that ‘sexed-up’ dossier; who leaked Kelly’s name; the BBC’s role, Gilligan, etc).

All in all, it was a rare public exposure of how The Spin Doctor works, and how much he poisons the democratic franchise, too.

The entire war was, of course, a tour de force of Spin. Since we’ve flogged the lies to death already – and since, in the happy wake of Saddam’s capture, to reprise them fully yet again is doubtless to invite more abuse as ‘whining appeasers who would prefer that he were still in power’- we need only recall the Big Two in glancing pastiche (the Spinner’s preferred mode, anyway, since concrete statements are too easily discreditable).

This is more or less how the war was Spun, in particular by various quasi-official Spinners working in their ’embedded’ intelligence groups in the Pentagon, their think-tanks, and the Rupie press:

1. Saddam and WMD

Iran, Gulf 1, Niger, 45 minutes, tubes, centrifuge, gassed Kurds, anthrax, drones, Frog nuke parts, Russian AT missiles, Scuds, chemical suits, fridge vials, dirty bombs, Richard ‘Rent-a-mouth’ Butler, blabbing defectors, all hidden, all buried, well-he-would-say-they-were-destroyed-wouldn’t-he’, prove a negative, he kicked out the inspectors!, they were spies anyway, Scott Ritter = internet prowler, Wilkie’s a lefty nut (busted marriage), Kelly was a wacky Buddhist, ONA ‘assessments’, UN records, chemical factories, bugger Old Bailey proof, SADDAM-APPEASERS!!!, Pearl Harbour, worst nightmare, profound conviction, terror nexus, Saddam has WMD, let’s roll..

2. Saddam and al-Qaeda

Prague meetings, airline mock-up, terrorist training camp, Afghan al-Q veteran with busted leg in Baggers, Dick Cheney says so, Saddam and Osama, financial trails, Sudan, Palestinian suicide bomber payments, Ansar al-Islam and Iraqi intelligence, Osama and Saddam, ignore the terrorist experts, Guantanamo interrogations, Stephen F. Hayes says so, SADDAM-APOLOGISTS!!!, al-Qaeda with a nuke, Greg Sheridan says so, Winston Churchill, worst nightmare, profound conviction, terror nexus, Saddam has links with al-Qaeda, let’s roll.

We can all rejoice at the sight of Saddam in chains, and congratulate the soldiers who caught him. But we should also congratulate their Spin Doctors. In January they sold the line that toppling Saddam did not alone justify invasion, but disarming him of WMD did. In December they sold the line that Saddam turning out to be disarmed of his WMD already didn’t make the invasion unjustified, because Saddam had now been toppled. Spin Doctoring at its finest, where what was said yesterday no longer exists. Oh, except that they do keep reminding us anti-invasion types that we’re all still appeasers. You figure it out.

But the war gave us an even clearer glimpse of The Spin Doctor as Kafka, when the role was taken to illuminating extremes by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

His TV assurances about the absence of US tanks in Baghdad even as they practically poked their barrels into shot behind him (proving that WMD delusions are not a Western monopoly) might have been cause for much merriment among pro-war types, but such transparent spin-lunacy was only barely more laughable than the extended Jessica Lynch fantasy, still merrily Spinning its way to ever-more surreal extremes of only-in-America unreality, including the Hollywood make-over, the requisitely-controversial best-seller (has she really forgotten that rape, or did it never happen and it’s all just marketing spin’), and the inevitable anti-Jessica spin backlash. Both Lynch and Saeed al-Sahaf have about the same number of dedicated websites too, whatever that tells us.

And remember Tony Abbott’s stubborn insistence to Kerry O’Brien that Terry Sharples’ legal costs were not, technically, ‘money’.

Or Trevor’s Kennedy’s heartfelt insistence that he donated his chunk of ‘un-money’ to Abbott’s Hanson-nobbling Slush Fund solely because he hated to see taxpayers being ripped off by anti-democratic frauds, only to be revealed himself a few months later via Offset Alpine as – well, you fill in the Spin yourself.

Then Hanson’s Spin on Abbott, then Bishop’s Spin on Beattie, which got Emerson Spinning on Bishop while Beattie Span it back to Howard, who tossed it, via Carr, back to anyone who wanted it, which certainly wasn’t the Australian Electoral Commission. Then Hanson’s conviction was overturned, and suddenly no-one wanted to play either Go in or Get Out, Spinner at all.

Or what about Steve Irwin’s Spin on the PM ‘ the best leader on the world’ Oh really, Steve’ Or is it what a Spin Doctor calls $175, 000 of the advertising budget very well spent’

And so on. Well may we laugh at Saddam & Co’s nuttier delusions in 2003, but there were just as many transparent Spin Doctor self-implosions in the Anglosphere, too, and while it was the year of his greatest triumphs, 2003 may also prove to be the one he finally ran out of rotational traction. As they say, the wrong ‘un is only a wrong ‘un to the bunny who hasn’t yet lifted his bat and been clean-bowled by it. So exhaustively now has the Spinner trotted out his assortment of orthodox off-breaks, leggies, top-spinners, googlies, flippers, sliders and straight balls that it’s hard to see what tricks he might have left for next season.

Truly those wiles were on show everywhere in 2003. In Government – plasma TV, Manildra, Tuckey, all the PM’s interviews. Other politics ‘ Bob Carr’s realm where everything is Spin, ruthlessly controlled by his team, Australia’s Princes of Spin; the leadership tussles, with all their usual inane Spin games until POW!

Latham reminded us all how great un-spun politics can feel; Hollingworth’s failure to out-Spin both his own offensive Spin and the tightly-wound Rent-a-Top death-rolling of Hetty Johnson. US politics ‘ the Democrat race, where (Howard Dean aside) candidature Spin on their ‘current’ positions on Iraq has given words like ‘tortuous’ and ‘fluid’ new meaning; the election of Arnie S. in California after a campaign bereft of anything but Spin.

The Corporates ‘ how else but with Spin can one explain to an AGM those still-rocketing CEO salaries in a flat market year’ Celebrity ‘ where ordinary Australians chose Spin over The Real Thing ourselves, voting for Guy, Shannon, What’s-Her-Name and only then Paulini. Even in journalism, where The Australian’s collective defence of Janet A outdid the New York Times’ Jayson Blair in the Spin Doctoring-as-serious-reportage stakes.

But by far the lamest-but-still-successful outing, the supreme moment in Spin Doctoring for 2003, came in Sport, when that Dual Exponent Shane Warne dribbled out a few pathetic long-hops to Ray Martin back in February ‘ and got away with it. Best moment’ When the Self-Employed Spin Doctor claimed that he took diuretics simply because he was ‘stupid’, for even at this very early stage of 2003, we see the craft in its representative prime.

First, there is Warne’s steely-cool willingness to publicly admit that his employer (in this case himself) is a screaming idiot, if there is no other way to avoid more damaging accusations. How often was 2003 to see this wily tactic deployed!

‘Mr Tuckey was not corrupt, he was just stupid’; ‘the junior staff member was stupid to call Andrew Wilkie crazy’. ‘I was stupid to imply that the fourteen-year-old raped that helpless priest’. Bravo for setting the year’s tone, Shane! (And the ‘plausibility’ of that alternative explanation, too – who would not concede the chance, at least, that Warne is not a lying, drug-taking cheat at all, but simply thick as pig-shit’)

Then there are all the classic Australian Spin Doctor trimmings at work, here: Warne’s ‘straight-talking’ delivery that disguises what is actually total obfuscation; the wheedling hurt tone and plaintive voicing via which he proclaims his underdog status, even though he has more power, popularity and patronage than any other Player in the Game; the quivering-lip hints of emotion simmering beneath that buttoned-up ordinary Australian exterior, the manufactured ‘profound convictions’ ‘ why, darken the blonde tints, thicken those eyebrows, whip out the diamond stud and bung a Slouch Hat on his head, and Warney could probably even sell a tough line like: ‘No, I assure you I’m not remotely worried about Mark Latham in 2004, Kerry.’

Finally, that definitive early moment in the Year of the Spin Doctor incorporates what would prove to be the most crucial ancillary element of all in this victory: The Tame Journalist.

Marvel at Warney’s fellow Packer-Lacky Ray Martin, in the guise of ‘reporter’, as he pokes a respectful dead bat defensively at every lolly-pop from Kerry’s other Big Investment. With that kind of journalistic self-discipline and lack of scepticism, Ray could easily become a Fox News war correspondent or a Daily Telegraph columnist (although this interview clearly reveals Martin as irretrievably embedded in ‘ sorry, with – another mighty mogul, already).

Still, without the ceaseless efforts of these unsung heroes, The Spin Doctor would have a much tougher time of it, so a nod to Ray Martin, too, as representative of all the other meek, simpering, domesticated journalists who helped make 2003 his most triumphant.

But farewell, too, to the Daddy of them all, for 2003 also saw Alistair Campbell un-quietly retire after Hutton had wrapped. It was lovely getting to know Alistair in 2003, and perhaps in 2004 we might become just as intimately-acquainted with the Australian Guild Leaders too ‘ astoundingly well-paid Professional Public Liars such as Tony O’Leary ($”’, ”’, Howard), Walt Secord and Amanda Lampe ($178, 000 and $158, 000, Carr), and the spectacularly-inept Andrew Reynolds ($200-$300′ per hour, Hollingworth), who’ve all been working so hard for so long, without any public credit from us taxpayers at all. Let’s hope that next year our journalists give them the level of personal attention they deserve.

Alistair Campbell’s finest hour as Liar-in-Chief of The Spin Doctor Guild’ Well, the many filthy examples-of-the-craft he leaves behind as the legacy of his long time as the Dark Prince of Bullshit Castle are none of them as instructive as the deeper belief he reveals by his leaving of it when he did: that The Man Who Is Nowhere To Be Seen But Has His Inky Digits All Over The Shop ‘ The Spin Doctor, the Meeja Watch ‘Most Memorable Person of 2003’ – is utterly, utterly useless to his elected-politician King, once he has become The Man Who Is Seen Everywhere.

Which is why we hope The Spin Doctor will end up winning this award two years in a row.

Leave a Reply